“When the Pope calls, he deserves an answer.” With these words, on March 7 2007, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco welcomed the “great responsibility” of having been chosen by Benedict XVI to serve as President of the Italian Bishops’ Conference (CEI), reconfirmed by Francis for another mandate. In his 42 prolusions – including Permanent Councils and General Assemblies – we find all the care and attention of the Italian Church towards the Country’s developments, with a gaze of hope and faith steeped in the Gospel, marked by the concrete approach of those who, as parish priests, are actively engaged in listening to people’s lives despite the lasting emergencies, the unsolved problems and drifts of a Country that seems to have fallen prey to a sort of immobility, folded in on itself, that finds it hard to change course.
The crisis. In the prolusion of the first general Assembly as CEI President, in May 2007, Bagnasco, defining the Italian Church “a Church of the people”, already voiced a word – crisis – that was to underlie all ensuing prolusions, long before the full-blown national and international crisis, that broke out in the years 2008-2009. On that same year the Cardinal launched a cry of alarm on unemployment – notably among youths – and on precariousness. The crisis is not over, he warned in 2011: “An epochal crisis must be answered with an equally epochal change.” His proposal in 2012: “Today more than ever no-one should delude himself into thinking that he can save himself without the help of others.” The risk, he pointed out, is to remain “a perpetually unfinished Country” (2013), because “the mother of all crises is individualism”; renamed “hyper-individualism” in 2014. Over four million people live in extreme poverty, he denounced in 2016.
The family: a key word – alongside with employment – since his first prolusion delivered in March 2007, ahead of the “Family Day”, which on May 12 brought one million people to gather in the esplanade in front of Saint John Lateran’s basilica in Rome. Already in 2008 he listed de facto couples, civil partnerships, and “short marriage divorce” as the main threats to the family based on marriage. The family has priority over the State, the right of the child has precedence over individual desires, he cautioned in 2013 referring to same-sex marriages. In 2016, against the backdrop of the lowest birth-rates since the unification of Italy, his greatest concern was the demographic winter. He constantly reiterated the vital bond between the family and education (with special focus on the school environment). The fight on gender theories emerges as a primary bioethical issue.
Young people. The world of adults is “is responsible for the future” of the young, Bagnasco wrote in 2012, the year that closed his first five-year term as CEI President. Young people risk becoming the “new invisible ones”, especially in Italy’s southern regions, he remarked in 2013. In 2016, unemployment rates among 15-24 year-olds increased by 39.2%: “Young people are giving up”, he said.
Immigration. “Immigration is a magmatic reality: if not governed, it will be suffered”, was his cry of alarm in 2009. In 2014 he denounced “the tragedy of men, women, children, attempting to cross the sea to reach our coasts with the hope of a better future.” To them, he said at the time, must be guaranteed “true integration and a new life.” A statement that is still valid today.
Employment. His cry of alarm over employment began with the ThyssenKrupp factory blaze, in 2008, with a constant reminder throughout the decade. Labor “cannot become a matter of life and death.” Employment, the family and the welfare state were the priorities signaled to the political realm in 2016.
“Employment remains the first, overarching emergency”, he affirmed in the prolusion released past March this year.
Politics. His first appeal on the political front was addressed to “those political leaders inspired by Christianity”. In 2008, he called upon the latter “to oppose legislative proposals that follow the opposite path of Christian rational anthropology.” On the eve of the elections that same year. the Church reconfirmed “the line of non-involvement” in terms of political or party adherence, adopted still today. In 2009 he called upon the faithful to “look ahead”, in order to “overcome a widespread climate of tension and permanent opposition.”
“I would like this season to contribute to the emergence of a new generation of Italians and of Catholics”, was his dream in 2010.
In 2010, ahead of the national elections, he underlined a set of “non-negotiable values” for the political realm, which are: the family, life, religious freedom and freedom of education. The “anthropological disaster” can be avoided only by passing from the “singular” to the “plural” form.
“Caring for people is the only serious thing to do. Caring for them with a great sense of responsibility, shunning inconclusive and harmful forms of populism”, was his appeal after the 2013 elections. Employment, the family, youths, the demographic winter, were the priorities in 2016.
Earthquake. The earthquake that shattered the Abbruzzo region occurred in 2009, during his first five-year presidential mandate. As he was nearing the end of his second mandate another seism devastated central Italy. During both tragedies Cardinal Bagnasco pointed out that such tragedies bring to the fore
“the most beautiful face of our people”, marked by solidarity and resilience.
Life. The end-of-life issue was ushered in by the episode of Eluana Englaro, that sparked off a heated debate across society, involving also the Catholic public opinion. “We look forward to a law that will prevent tragic situations like the one of Eluana”, was his appeal in 2009, valid still today. No to forms of “creative jurisprudence” on the beginning and end of life, was his appeal reiterated this year as concerns the theme of the Advanced Directives of Treatment.